Atanu Dey On India's Development

Keep Observing, Wondering, and Asking Why

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My Dear Abhishek,

It gives me great joy to write a letter to you which you will understand – although you may still have to ask your mom or dad to read it out to you, and explain some bits. My previous letters to you will have to wait till you grow up a bit more.

Over the last year you and I had quite a lot of fun. We played lots of board games such as Ticket to Ride, Othello, Genius, and most importantly of all, Monopoly. Although I am an economist, I had never played Monopoly. It is such a fun game and I will always remember that it was you who taught me the game. Aside from the board games, we also played with your huge collection of toy trains and model railroads.

Your short attention span amuses me. You would start a board game and then be very eager to finish it and move on. There are too many things you would like to get accomplished – and you cannot wait to get them all done. Maybe it is because I am generally there for at most a couple of hours, and knowing that, you try to make the most of it.

A couple of weeks ago you were at the office when I happened to be there as well. Your latest obsession is Mumbai bus routes. Your dad tells me how you two go on bus rides every day early in the morning. You know so much about those routes. At the office you told me about dozens of bus routes: where they start and terminate, how many stages, limited or not, etc. For example you said that route 709 has the most stages (68) and where it starts from and where it terminates. We spent time at some web site which has lots of information about Mumbai buses. Much of what you said was exactly right. If there ever were to be a quiz contest on Mumbai’s bus routes, I bet you will win it hands down.

I can see that you become intensely interested in specific things from time to time, and you eagerly learn everything you can about them. You have learned the joy of learning. In keeping with that, here’s what I want you to know. It’s my advice to you on your fifth birthday.

We live in a wonderful world. What’s more, we have the capacity to appreciate the wonders of this amazing world. It is all around for us to see if only we learn how to observe the world around us. Like all young children, you have an instinctive talent to see the world as it is. As you grow older, the challenge will be to retain that talent and not lose it like most of us do as we grow up.

When you look at the world, learn to observe deeply. You will find it interesting. But that is just the first step, the step that says, “I observe that this is so.” Then the next step is something that you have to consciously learn. In this step you ask yourself, “I wonder why it is so?”

The important word is “why”. Once you ask why, you will find some answers – either from further observations on your own, your own thinking about it, asking others why, or reading about it – and those answers will lead you to observe more about the world. The process goes round and round in ever-ascending circles of observing, asking why, find out, observing, and so on.

The wonder keeps deepening. The more you understand the world, the more you will know that there is a lot more to understand.

What’s the point? The answer is simple: our goal is to know who we are. Part of that knowing involves knowing the world around us; part of that knowing comes from inner contemplation. The inner contemplation bit will come in time. For now, you can learn to look deeply into the external world, the world outside yourself.

There is a very practical reason for learning about the world through deep observation. Like everyone else, you too will be involved with the world. You will intervene in the world, like we all do. The better you understand the world, the more likely it is that your involvement with the world will be harmonious: consistent with nature, both within you and without you.

To act properly in the world, you have to understand the world.

So have fun observing the world the way it is, asking why it is so, and then continue to observe and ask. When you act, act without fear and without worrying. Your act can never be wrong if what you do is consistent with your nature, which you have learned about by observing the world very carefully.

Learn to understand the world as it is because only then you will be able to intervene in the world to make it more like what you would want the world to be.

I am in Delhi tomorrow 19th April. I will call you to wish you happy birthday.

With lots of love from your “Atanu uncle”!